- An African Peace Process -- Mandela, South Africa and Burundi
Burundi must be one of the least-known African countries to outsiders, especially in the English speaking world. A few realise that the stability of Burundi is closely tied to the stability of its neighbours, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even fewer can probably identify Burundi as having the same Hutu/Tutsi mix in its population as Rwanda but with the post-colonial history being one of continuous Tutsi domination, as opposed to the Hutu revolution that swept Rwanda with the coming of independence. In South Africa, inexplicable news bulletins occasionally highlight the long process of negotiations to end conflict in Burundi and the role that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) (within the African Union peacekeeping force) has played there. Therefore the Nelson Mandela Foundation is to be commended for commissioning this study which sheds considerable light on the problems of Burundi and discusses analytically the role South Africa has played in bringing peace to the country.
There exists today, in large part because a sort of profession has developed around it, a 'peace studies' or 'conflict studies' industry that tries to project peacemaking as some sort of universalising process which can be studied and which has key elements that repeat themselves in most or all international conflicts. There are such elements of course (the need of finding a way of bringing violence to a close, for instance) but they are too obvious and also too abstract to be worth studying in a classroom. In terms of what counts, each conflict situation has its own particular problems and dimensions. The contribution that Nelson Mandela in particular made to solving the Burundi problem came not from a peacekeeping formula he [End Page 124] learnt from the negotiations to end conflict in South Africa, but from his skill as a negotiator and his shrewdness at getting to the heart of the matter and forcing a way through the key blockages that were preventing progress. Although peace in Burundi remains fragile and the larger problems of peace in the Great Lakes region of central Africa still far from resolved, the Mandela team certainly deserve considerable credit for the progress made here. They succeeded the previous efforts of the late Tanzanian ex-president, Julius Nyerere, who was not entirely unsuccessful but, because he was seen as less neutral and because his team of negotiators was more limited, accomplished far less. With the main thrust of peace-making established, ex-Deputy President Jacob Zuma was also able to play a skilful role in tense situations following the retirement of Mandela from the scene.
The greatest problem that the Burundi negotiations faced was that a power-sharing formula had been reached between UPRONA, the traditional party supported by Tutsi in Burundi and FRODEBU, the old Hutu political movement, while increasing armed struggle was still being waged from the outside by breakaway Hutu fighters who rejected it. An equivalent process involving FRODEBU had in fact helped to scupper a previous negotiation and election process a few years earlier, a failure bathed in serious violence and assassinations. The key moment therefore was when the Arusha accords were substantially modified so as to allow CNDD-FDD under its leader Jean-Pierre Nkurunziza, to take part in the interim government. This was a very messy business, given the level of mistrust and the fragmentation of political leadership amongst both Hutu and Tutsi, agreed to initially in late 2002 but only put into practice from 2003. The growing confidence that various parties had in the honest broker nature of the South African troops on the ground in Burundi, and their willingness to protect various Burundian leaders, helped enormously here.
Tied to this was the necessity to move from a crude power-sharing formula (Tutsi form no more than 15 per cent or so of the Burundian population) towards some system that would combine stability and democracy. The key element proved to be a requirement that legitimate political parties include substantial numbers...